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Olsen v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

December 27, 2017

BONNIE OLSEN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MAC R. MCCOY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Bonnie Olsen's Complaint (Doc. 1) filed on December 8, 2016. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. The Commissioner filed the Transcript of the proceedings (hereinafter referred to as “Tr.” followed by the appropriate page number), and the parties filed legal memoranda in support of their positions. For the reasons set out herein, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED in part AND REVERSED AND REMANDED in part pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. Social Security Act Eligibility, the ALJ Decision, and Standard of Review

         A. Eligibility

         The law defines disability as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905. The impairment must be severe, making the claimant unable to do her previous work or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2), 1382c(a)(3); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505 - 404.1511, 416.905 - 416.911. Plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion through step four, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987).

         B. Procedural History

         On July 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. at 92, 161-65). Plaintiff asserted an onset date of July 1, 2012. (Id. at 161). On January 23, 2016, Plaintiff amended her onset date to January 1, 2013. (Id. at 178-79). Plaintiff's application was denied initially on October 30, 2013 and on reconsideration on March 11, 2014. (Id. at 92, 93). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) William G. Reamon on February 1, 2016. (Id. at 39-80). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 12, 2016. (Id. at 17-27). The ALJ found Plaintiff not to be under a disability from July 1, 2012, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 27).

         On October 21, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at 1-5). Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in the United States District Court on December 8, 2016. This case is ripe for review. The parties consented to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge for all proceedings. (See Doc. 17).

         C. Summary of the ALJ's Decision

         An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine if a claimant has proven that she is disabled. Packer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 542 Fed.Appx. 890, 891 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Jones v. Apfel, 190 F.3d 1224, 1228 (11th Cir. 1999)).[1] An ALJ must determine whether the claimant: (1) is performing substantial gainful activity; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has a severe impairment that meets or equals an impairment specifically listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) can perform her past relevant work; and (5) can perform other work of the sort found in the national economy. Phillips v. Barnhart, 357 F.3d 1232, 1237-40 (11th Cir. 2004). The claimant has the burden of proof through step four and then the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. Hines-Sharp v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 511 Fed.Appx. 913, 915 n.2 (11th Cir. 2013).

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2017. (Tr. at 19). At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2012, the alleged onset date. (Id.).[2] At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: bilateral knee osteoarthritis; left total knee replacement; cervical spine spondylosis/degenerative disc disease/facet mediated pain; and venous insufficiency (20 C.F. R. § 404.1520(c)). (Id.). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, and 404.1526). (Id. at 22).

         At step four, the ALJ found the following:

[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 [C.F.R. §] 404.1567(b) except the claimant is limited to standing/and or walking up to 4 hours in an 8 hour day; sitting up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day; no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; no kneeling or crawling; occasional climbing of ramps and stairs; and occasional balancing, stooping, and crouching. In addition, the claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold and humidity, and even moderate exposure to vibration and hazards, such as dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights.

(Id. at 23). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a caseworker. (Id. at 26). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability from July 1, 2012, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 27).

         D. Standard of Review

         The scope of this Court's review is limited to determining whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard, McRoberts v. Bowen, 841 F.2d 1077, 1080 (11th Cir. 1988), and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 390 (1971). The Commissioner's findings of fact are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla-i.e., the evidence must do more than merely create a suspicion of the existence of a fact, and must include such relevant evidence as a reasonable person would accept as adequate to ...


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